While perusing my Facebook feed during a recent bout of insomnia, I came across an article several people had posted. The article is called, “The Issue of Age in Modern Worship” and with it the post begged, “How would your grandmother fit in during a typical worship service of your church?”
As a worship leader, it peaked my interest so I read the article. In an effort to faithfully represent the author’s position and stance, I will try to summarize his points below, but encourage you to read the full article here, as well as the follow-up article, “Age in Modern Worship: Further Reflections” here for greater context to my response.
Summary: There is a growing trend in some churches to retire older, more seasoned worship leaders in favor of younger counterparts. While there could be many reasons for this, it is misrepresentative of the Church at large. If you are brand-focused and event-oriented, it makes sense to use a demographically homogenous worship team to further the brand. (Example given is “young hipsters or modern rockers”). Ergo, if your band is a group of “young hipsters or modern rockers” you are brand-focused, event-oriented and don’t care about learning from older members. This makes it appear we model “cool” people leading worship and isolate “uncool” people and styles for the sake of the brand.
The author’s summary point is then made, “What are we really gaining when a church stops looking like the Church?” He then goes on to describe his worship team, one where older and younger musicians of different stylistic leanings are, “gathering together to make great music for our Great God…great diversity of the Bride of Christ worshiping the Author of Diversity.”
He makes great points and I am thankful for his leadership among his team to glorify God and edify the church. I in no sense intend to attack this brother in Christ or his views. If for branding purposes, a church removes a capable leader with a strong heart and capacity for leading worship, it is terrible.
However, let me offer a different angle of lighting on this stage.
I get it. I see the hipster worship bands with their oversized glasses and undersized jeans making the music of every Macbook user’s Pandora station. I’ve sat under their leadership. I have also sat under the leadership of the 60-something arm-waving choir/orchestra director guiding us through key modulations and classical interludes before we skip stanza 3 and hit the crescendo of stanza 4. I’ve been there and everywhere in between.
The truth is, I have no problem with any of these because the Bible has no problem with any of these. The Bible focuses on the heart of those leading worship, not the style of sleeve they wear it on. Perhaps on my grandmother’s Facebook page there are articles with the question, “How would your grandson fit in during a typical worship service of your church?” I don’t know. My greater concern is not who is fitting in, who makes up the team, or what style is accompanying, but what truths they are feeding their flock.
While this was not the author’s key point, this is the conversation that usually flows out of such discussions, and in many ways is an underlying sore. As a worship leader at a church that employs modern worship regularly in our specific context to communicate the timeless truths of the Gospel, my greatest concern is not average age on the stage, decade/century of song written, genre of song, or stylistic variations in homage to the Author of Diversity. I’m more concerned with the Author of Salvation.
Bottom line, God gave us His Word and His Spirit to point us and push us towards Christ. Any worship leader worth his salt is seeking to incorporate Scripture into every avenue of the service (yes, in song) as well as praying to the Spirit to use the truths sung and displayed to actively communicate the Gospel as the gathered church remembers, responds, and reminds. Songs should be thick with Gospel truth, saturated with Scripture and representative of the Bible God gave us.
This has little to nothing to do with music style.
Truthfully, when the Spirit by His grace began to illuminate the Bible-infused words poetically put to verse to communicate the timeless truths of the Gospel to me, it was from a hymn book with organ blaring. But I didn’t care if it was out of a hymn book on Sunday morning or a transparency screen on Wednesday night (I’m a child of the 90’s. All you millenials, google it). I began to see the disparity and merits of both as they utilized the truth of the Gospel to shed a giant spotlight on Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Would my grandma fit in during a typical worship service at our church? Yes. Not because she has the Civil Wars on vinyl (it’s a band) but because she loves Jesus. She loves the Word of God. She may not like the music. But she would fit right in next to the tatted-up university student and the Men’s Warehouse father of four who love Jesus and the Word of God. As a grandson and a worship leader, the best and most honest thing my grandma could say to me after being in one of our worship gatherings would not be, “I loved the music and the cross-generational makeup of your band,” but, “I didn’t care for the music, but I love the God we sang about and the Scriptural truths we celebrated.”
By God’s grace, this is what I pray earnestly to do as a worship leader – not lead music, but lead worship. Music is a biblically-ordained, prescribed conduit for worship (Psalm 33). But part of my job as a worship leader is to remind the church that it’s not about the music or even the worship, but the One being worshiped. Our room is dark and stage lights off not because we’re moody or hipster, but because I want to save the church from the temptation to make issue over the average age of the worshipers on stage or what they’re wearing. I’d rather have anonymity and a few bruised shins than give the enemy a foothold of dissention that has nothing to do with the Gospel.
Diversity is great and can be a great model to show the surpassing riches of the Gospel. But diversity is not the end-game. God is. Whatever music style we employ, let it continually be overshadowed, understated and in due time, forgotten in light of the glory of God and the truths of His Word. As the old song says, may the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. (By the way, they railed against that one when it first came out too).
Worship is not about the people on the stage. Worship is not about tempo, instruments or genres. Worship is not about how comfortable your grandma or grandson would be in your service. Worship is about God. God gave us His Word and His Spirit to lead us in worship. Spirit and truth. Lets talk about that.